Michelle Obama Visits NAACP Convention

The NAACP opens its 101st convention with a visit from first lady Michelle Obama. Under other circumstances, the group might be upset about the president declining to attend. But polls show the first lady is actually the more popular of the two.

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The NAACP, the nation's oldest civil rights organization, says it's moving beyond its traditional role, focusing more on issues like climate change and health disparities. And in keeping with that agenda, first lady Michelle Obama today took her campaign against childhood obesity to the group's 101st annual convention.

NPR's Cheryl Corley reports from Kansas City.

NAACP A: Are you ready?

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

CHERYL CORLEY: This was a moment hundreds of NAACP delegates have been waiting for. Cameras flashing, they leapt to their feet, showering Michelle Obama with applause as she in turn praised the group.

NORRIS: I know that I stand here today, and I know that my husband stands where he is today because of this organization.

CORLEY: For months, Obama has traveled the country, talking about childhood obesity. Today, she told the NAACP it particularly affects African-Americans.

NORRIS: We need to take this issue seriously, as seriously as improving underachieving schools, as seriously as eliminating youth violence or stopping the spread of HIV/AIDS or any of the other issues that we know are devastating our communities.

CORLEY: In her speech today, Michelle Obama made a point to talk about the obstacles that prevent many African-Americans from eating healthily. Charles Gates(ph), an investments instructor from Virginia, said that was something he could appreciate.

NORRIS: In the black community, we don't have a food store in the centralized black community that we can go to to get fresh foods, so this type of initiative is very, very needed in our community.

CORLEY: For many in this crowd here, mostly African-Americans, Obama is clearly a role model. 14-year-old Chaude Taylor from New York calls the first lady an inspiration.

NORRIS: People can look up to her not only because she's like the president's wife or whatever, but she has been doing her own stuff, too, as well, so she's basically like a second president to me, basically.

CORLEY: In past years, if a president didn't show up at the NAACP meeting, its leaders were miffed, but just about everyone seemed pleased to have Michelle Obama as the keynote speaker.

Recent polls show the first lady has approval ratings of about 70 percent. That makes her the most popular person in the administration right now. President Obama's approval rating is about 50 percent.

Kojo Nantambu from Charlotte, North Carolina, says the first lady has been savvy in choosing which topics to highlight.

NORRIS: So she's dealing with issues that are very significant, especially in the impoverished communities that we live, but she's also dealing with issues that nobody really can turn their head against and say, well, she's doing too much.

CORLEY: But the role Obama has carved out for herself may be changing as Democrats running for Congress look for some coattail help from an Obama that's not the president.

The first lady was the featured speaker in May at a Democratic National Committee event. During a trip to visit military families in California, Senator Barbara Boxer was at her side. And today, a trip to discuss the impact of the oil spill in Panama City, Florida, may indicate the first lady is expanding her political role. But for now, Michelle Obama's focus is childhood obesity and her Let's Move! campaign.

NORRIS: So I'm asking you, NAACP, will you move with me? Let's move!

CORLEY: This week, NAACP members will discuss other issues such as unemployment, ways to counter Tea Party activism and the impact of the BP oil spill on communities of color.

Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Kansas City, Missouri.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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